By Feston Malekezo, Jameson Chauluka & Faith Kadzanja:
There were ugly scenes in some parts of the Northern Region on the first day of demonstrations as some protesters looted and destroyed public structures, including Mzuzu Prison Building and Karonga District Commissioner (DC)’s office.
However, there was relative calm in Lilongwe whereas in Blantyre, it took the High Court’s intervention for the demonstrations to take place, with Malawi Defence Force (MDF) officers moving in to ward off some political party followers that wanted to thwart the protests using violence.
In Mzuzu, the protesters pelted stones then torched the government offices for the Ministry of Finance, veterinary, prison and accountant general, prompting police officers to fire teargas canisters at them.
At this point, MDF soldiers took over control of the situation to restore order.
Activist Charles Kajoloweka, who was one of the organisers of the demonstrations in Mzuzu, said police incited the violence.
“It is sad that the police used teargas on an issue that could have been contained easily. What we can say is that police are inciting violence, which is quite unfortunate. So, yes, there have been pockets of violence simply because people were retaliating,” he said.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) representative in the Northern Region, Happy Mhango, also bemoaned the conduct of the police.
The protesters were prevented from presenting their petition to Mzuzu City Council and were told to return where they started the demonstrations—Katoto Secondary School Ground.
But the situation got out of hand in Karonga District, where angry protesters torched the DC’s office in anger because, according to an eye-witness, DC Emmanuel Bulukutu, was unavailable to receive their petition.
In Blantyre, there was tension between youths dressed in Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) T-shirts and protesters who are pushing for Malawi Electoral Commission Chairperson Justice Jane Ansah’s resignation over the manner her commission handled May 21 presidential election results.
It took MDF soldiers to bring order at around Kamuzu Stadium, in the commercial city, where the HRDC-led protests were expected to start from.
The soldiers intervened after some of the youth in DPP colours attacked a woman who was passing by Chichiri Shopping Mall because she wore a red shirt, mistaking her for a protester.
HRDC Southern Region Chairperson, Masauko Thawe, hailed MDF for protecting the people during the demonstrations.
“Tomorrow, we are coming here again to demonstrate because it is our constitutional right. You have seen how the men and women in uniform have protected us; so, let us come in large numbers. After all, we have a court order for us to demonstrate,” he said.
In Zomba, protesters vandalised President Peter Mutharika’s billboards at Zomba Central Hospital and Matawale Trading Centre, having started marching from Chinamwali Trading Centre.
The protesters also burnt tyres on M3 Road which connects Zomba and Mangochi districts, blocking it for over two hours.
Police intervened by firing teargas canisters to disperse protesters who wanted to break Usave ShopRite premises.
However, HRDC Eastern Region Chairperson, Madalitso Banda, after presenting a petition to the DC’s office, said people were angry.
“People must blame Jane Ansah for all this violence. People are very angry and this is because Jane Ansah is not stepping down. Therefore, we are not going to stop protesting until she steps down,” Banda said.
In Lilongwe, HRDC Vice- Chairperson, Gift Trapence, received a death threat yesterday at around 11am just after the protesters had started marching from Mchesi Township to Capital Hill Roundabout, where they are holding their vigils.
“I am coming tonight, I will shoot you down,” reads part of an SMS he received from a South African mobile phone number.
However, Trapence said he remained unmoved as theirs is a national cause.
“There were other individuals who tracked the number and we have known the individual so that the police can arrest that person. If they think that they can silence people by killing them, then they are joking,” he said.
Earlier, the protesters, most of them dressed in black, red and white attire, started marching at around 10am and were joined by Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera and his UTM counterpart Saulos Chilima.
“I am here as a Malawian to join fellow Malawians in seeking justice. We would like Justice Jane Ansah to leave office because the elections did not go well and we are not happy at all,” Chilima said.—Additional reporting by Sam Kalimira, Jarson Malowa and Mandy Pondani